The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft‘s latest exhibit, “Food Shelter Clothing,” continues to cement KMAC’s place as a challenging and rewarding contemporary art museum. The show takes the titular basic needs of humanity, and then interrogates, deconstructs and reimagines them.
In the exhibition notes, chief curator and executive director Aldy Milliken says the show takes inspiration from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Basic needs are at the bottom of the psychologist’s pyramid; the need to create and experience art is all the way on the distant peak.
Milliken spoke on this idea when he took the time to show Insider around KMAC.
“The show is about the relationship between art and need, using the materials that are the structure for what sociologists think of as the foundations — food, shelter and clothing, and then using those materials to legitimize art as a basic need,” he explains.
“Food Shelter Clothing” covers the first two floors of the museum and approaches the curatorial theme with a broad range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, fashion, and video and textile installations.
Outside of thematic considerations, “Food Shelter Clothing” continues KMAC’s mission to honor the process and the craft of making art as much as the finished project. The exhibit includes formal works, but it also includes interactive works and ongoing creations.
“Part of this exhibition is about alternative practices that are happening in the art world right now — how artists are making their art work,” says Milliken. “Some of the (exhibit’s) artists are making their work in the studio. Some artists are traveling, looking at the world. Some of the artists are making the work as we speak. Their work will evolve as the show runs.”
These evolutions will actively involve attendees. While I was wandering through the exhibit alone and taking notes, MOTORPARK member Kim Charles Kay arrived at the museum and began adding driftwood to “A Version of One Truth,” the installation her group is creating.
She invited me to join her and handed me a knife and piece of wood. We whittled and talked about quilts and ’90s punk zines. She gave me a Kombucha tea starter in a mason jar, and a lesson in how to make it grow.
This wasn’t just special treatment for the press. Kay invited every person who walked through the exhibit to join us.
Kay will be around all summer, teaching workshops and interacting with locals. MOTORPARK’s other member, Lisi Raskin, will return to Louisville in August.
Kay is looking for volunteers with a trailer hitch to help transport her work in progress — a refurbished utility trailer. You can expect to see that project showing up around town.
Lee Mingwei’s “The Mending Project” also asks for audience interaction. Hundreds of spools of thread are attached to the wall, and a long beautiful wooden table sits in front of them. Visitors can leave a torn article of clothing that will be mended, tagged and added to the exhibit. Visitors can retrieve their clothing when the exhibit closes in September.
Long trails of thread flow between each item of clothing and spools on the wall. Visitors are asked to leave stories — Where did the clothing come from? How did it become damaged? — with the volunteer menders, who will be working on the clothes.
Many of the works are subtly or overtly political. The provision of basic needs is arguably the foundation of humanity’s choice to work together and create societies and governments. It follows an open questioning of what these needs mean, and how they are attained will involve criticism of the society that provides them.
Louisville native Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle offers a mediation on clothing and our culture’s tendency to exoticize African-Americans. Her video installation “The Countermand” is a 20-minute loop with layers of images, as she takes off and puts on scarves, jewelry and other clothing items. Each piece is something that has, in the past, caused people to assume she is African, or remark upon how exotic she looks.
“The Countermand” is paired with “Façade 1,” a mannequin wearing all the pieces of clothing.
“The Sugar Children” by Vik Muniz is a series of photographs of children who work on sugar plantations, an open criticism of dehumanizing child labor practices.
Frank Jones’ “Crick Devil Chinee” calls the prison industrial complex into question, as he was a former mentally ill inmate. His need for food, shelter and clothing were arguably met, but he was plagued with demons and devils he could literally see until his death in 1969. Only through art — a series of color pencil drawings depicting demons in cages — could he find relief.
The juxtaposition of some artists compare the problems of different societal systems.
While the stark beauty of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s series “Bus Stops, Armenia” is obvious, there is an added criticism of the former Soviet Union in the images of grand state-built structures now fallen into disrepair.
Right next to those images of soaring modernist architecture is a series of food-based relief that is outlandishly colorful. Gina Beavers’ food paintings are clearly a statement about our ad-obsessed consumer capitalist society.
“Food Shelter Clothing” is a complex show that confronts attendees’ assumptions about life, while offering aesthetic beauty. It’s also very approachable. While some of the exhibit seems strange at first, all of the art touches on issues of our daily lives. It is possible to emotionally engage even the more challenging works.
“Food Shelter Clothing” continues through Sept. 6. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft is located at 715 W. Main St., and its hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.